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One of America's Favorite Burger Chains May Soon Have a New Owner

Wendy's largest shareholder is exploring moves that would improve the chain's shareholder value.
FACT CHECKED BY Mura Dominko

Wendy's may soon have a new owner. Trian Fund Management, a majority shareholder of Wendy's, announced Tuesday that it is looking into a potential acquisition of the burger chain, in hopes of making the company more profitable.

A recent SEC filing confirms that Trian, which owns a 19.4% stake in Wendy's, is currently "explor[ing]…a potential transaction…to enhance shareholder value"—one which could involve a third party, and include an acquisition, merger, or other deal that would transfer control of Wendy's.

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The news was apparently music to the ears of investors, with Wendy's shares lifting 17% in after-hours trading on Tuesday.

Trian and Wendy's go back a long way. The investment firm has been a shareholder since 2005, and in the past 17 years has been involved in some of Wendy's largest company-wide initiatives, including a massive remodeling program in 2012, a re-franchising push in 2013 (aimed at scaling back company ownership of stores), a $25 million investment in Wendy's digital operations in 2018, and the breakfast menu rollout in 2020.

Currently, Trian holds three seats on Wendy's board of directors. Nelson Peltz, the head of Trian, has served as Wendy's director since 2008.

Given Trian's track record, an acquisition or merger with the firm could be good news for Wendy's. The company is currently trailing competitors McDonald's and Restaurant Business International (Burger King's parent company) in stock performance, with shares down 32% this year. The company reported reduced customer traffic during its most recent earnings call, as well as losses in per-store earnings.

The outlook for the remainder of the year is equivocal, with Wendy's scheduled to increase its menu prices again in the coming months, following a round of price hikes last quarter. The company's CFO confirmed in an earnings call last year that adjustments in 2022 could be "north of 5%."

It's not yet clear what ownership by Trian or a third party would mean for Wendy's at the ground level, but if Trian's previous work with the chain is anything to go by, customers could expect any number of brand-strengthening investments. The SEC filing lists a number of potential initiatives, including investments in Wendy's "technology, unit development strategy, [and] product offerings."

Owen Duff
Owen Duff is a freelance journalist based in Vermont, home of Ben & Jerry’s. Read more